Grandparent Visitation is guided by the Grandparent Visitation Statute, N.J.S.A. 9:2-7.1. Under the statute, the Grandparents must show by a preponderance of the evidence that their visitation is in the best interests of the child in consideration of the following factors: (1) The relationship between the child and the applicant; (2) The relationship between each of the child's parents or the person with whom the child is residing and the applicant; (3) The time which has elapsed since the child last had contact with the applicant; (4) The effect that such visitation will have on the relationship between the child and the child's parents or the person with whom the child is residing; (5) If the parents are divorced or separated, the time sharing arrangement which exists between the parents with regard to the child; (6) The good faith of the applicant in filing the application; (7) Any history of physical, emotional or sexual abuse or neglect by the applicant; and (8) Any other factor relevant to the best interests of the child.
A review of current New Jersey case law indicates that our courts award Grandparent Visitation only to those who already have a relationship with the child. The basis of the award is to avoid the harm to a child that is caused by severing the relationship. That relationship would be one that has been long-term and has involved frequent and high quality contact and love. This is based on the constitutional deference to parents' rights. Overcoming this deference requires exceptional circumstances. Grandparents should demonstrate that they serve as a psychological parent or that visitation is necessary to avoid the substantial likelihood of serious physical or psychological harm. Such allegations must be supported by evidence.
Courts have denied Grandparent Visitation that impinges on the constitutional right of parents to raise their children without interference. Grandparents have a difficult burden of proof particularly where the fitness of the parents is not in question. Further, our courts have been hostile to Grandparents who engage in acrimonious litigation. They have cautioned Grandparents to refrain from disparaging the parents at the risk of requiring them to pay the parents' counsel fees.